Wondering what is a motion to quash a subpoena?
You received a subpoena and what’s being asked from you is excessive?
You want to know how to quash a subpoena?
In this article, we go over the motion to quash a subpoena in detail so you know exactly what to do.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What is a motion to quash a subpoena
To understand what is a motion to quash a subpoena, we must first understand what is a subpoena.
What is a subpoena
A subpoena is issued by a party’s lawyer to require someone that is not a party to a lawsuit do testify or to produce documents.
These two types of subpoenas are referred to as a subpoena ad testificandum (subpoena to testify) or subpoena duces tecum (subpoena to produce documents).
Typically, subpoenas are issued in the context of a discovery phase of a legal matter where the parties to a case are looking to discover all the relevant facts in support of their case.
Motion to quash a subpoena
Although subpoenas are legal documents that you must respect, it does not mean that they are reasonable all the time or even valid.
If you have grounds for which you want to object to a subpoena or resist the production of documents, in some cases, you’ll need to file a motion to quash a subpoena.
A motion to quash a subpoena is the legal way that you can get out of a subpoena.
You cannot ignore a subpoena and you cannot fail to respect the terms of the subpoena, so the only option you’ll have to resist a subpoena is to file a motion to quash a subpoena.
When does a subpoena exceed its limits
In most cases, lawyers and attorneys will reasonably use a subpoena to gather the information they need in order to build their legal case.
However, in some cases, the subpoena issued will exceed what’s reasonable forcing the receiving party to move to quash the subpoena.
If the subpoena requires that the recipient travel excessive distances, if there’s not enough time given to the recipient to reasonably gather the required documents or if the recipient will be exposed to a significant burden that is not reasonable, then the subpoena can be quashed or partially attacked.
When to object to the subpoena
In many jurisdictions, you’ll need to file your motion to quash the subpoena prior to the deadline given to you to testify or produce documents.
If you do not file your motion in time, you may not be able to quash the subpoena and you’ll be considered in contempt to court.
In some other jurisdictions, the law will set out a timeline as to how many days a party will have to file a motion in objection to a subpoena.
For example, if the law provides for a delay of 14 days, then that delay must be respected.
Reasons to support a motion to quash subpoena
What are the reasons that you can invoke to support your motion to quash a subpoena?
It’s important to note that the purpose of subpoena is to allow the parties gather the evidence they need to get justice.
Fundamentally, this is a very important process.
As a result, in most cases, you’ll end up having to respect the terms of the subpoena one way or another.
However, when the subpoena exceeds its limits or is invalid, then you can present your case to the court that you should not adhere to the terms of the subpoena as it has been sent to you.
Insufficient time to comply
The first type of argument you can use to attack the subpoena is to indicate that you have not been given enough time to comply with its terms.
In this case, you are not necessarily asking for the motion to be quashed but asking for additional time to be able to comply.
Required to travel beyond subpoena limits
Another reason that can be invoked is when a person is asked to travel beyond territorial limits allowed by the subpoena.
A subpoena is enforceable in the jurisdiction and territory relevant to the issuing court.
In some jurisdictions, the subpoena may compel someone to testify or produce documents provided they are within for example 100 miles from where they are required to produce the documents.
If someone is asked to travel outside those limits, the subpoena will not be valid and is subject to being dismissed.
A subpoena can be quashed if a party is asking you to divulge the content of privileged information protected by client-lawyer privilege.
Any information exchanged confidentially with your legal advisor is protected by law.
Unless you agree to disclose the content of the information you provided your attorney, nobody can force you to disclose that, even with a subpoena.
Alternatively, if the subpoena imposes an excessive burden on its recipient to comply, that can be ground to contest the subpoena.
Imagine you get a subpoena and you are required to spend days or weeks in preparing thousands of pages of documents while you are not even a party to the legal case.
The court may consider that to cause you undue burden and allow you to quash the subpoena.
A non-party to a case having received a subpoena to produce documents has the right to object on the grounds of relevance.
The courts will typically require that for a third-party to be compelled to produce documents, the party issuing the subpoena must demonstrate a greater level of relevance than a subpoena issued against the opposing party in the court case.
Court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction
You can file a motion to quash a subpoena if the subpoena has been issued by a court that does not have subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case.
This renders the subpoena invalid altogether.
Requires disclosure of protected business information
If you receive a subpoena requiring that you disclose business trade secrets, confidential information or protected business information, you can move to quash the subpoena.
Businesses go to great lengths in protecting their business information and trade secrets and a party to a case cannot extract that information from the business using subpoena as a vehicle.
Contains vague and ambiguous requests
If the demands formulated by the subpoena are not clear, ambiguous, unreasonable or even impossible to comply with, then good arguments may be made in support to your demand to quash the subpoena.
The failure to respect the proper rules of procedure to serve the subpoena may be a ground to invoke against a subpoena.
In most cases, the court may demand that the serving party serve the subpoena in a valid manner.
Requires disclosure of an unretained expert’s opinion
A subpoena cannot be used to force the disclosure of an expert’s opinion that has not been specifically mandated in the context of the legal proceedings.
Any expert opinion or information is protected information and a motion to quash a subpoena can be used to fight the production of such a report.
Court ruling on motion to quash subpoena
When presented with a motion to quash a subpoena, the court has four options:
- Grant the motion and quash the subpoena
- Partially grant the motion and quash parts of the subpoena
- Modify the subpoena to make it reasonable
- Dismiss the motion to quash
If in fact the subpoena is entirely illegal or sent to someone who is entirely unrelated to the dispute for example, the court can grant your motion to quash the subpoena.
When that happens, you will no longer need to comply with the terms of the subpoena.
The court may also partially accept your motion.
In this case, the court may consider parts of the subpoena to be excessive and invalidate those sections only but keep the subpoena enforceable against you.
Alternatively, the court may modify terms of the subpoena to make it more reasonable or eliminate an undue burden on the recipient for instance.
Finally, the court can completely reject your motion to quash the subpoena and maintain the subpoena in its integrality.
In a lot of cases, you’ll need to comply with the terms of the subpoena.
There are other instances is either invalid or has some technical defects giving you the opportunity to contest it and raise objections against having to comply with it.
You can’t just ignore a subpoena or fail to respond to it.
If you want to challenge a subpoena, you’ll need to file a motion to quash the subpoena to fight back.
In this article, we’ve covered some grounds that can be used to object to a subpoena.
We hope that it was helpful to you to better understand a motion to quash a subpoena.
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